Music Therapy for Cancer Patients
Music therapy can be traced back to World War II, where it was used to help the injured and maimed war- weary veteran’s transition back into everyday life. For decades it has been used in nursing homes and special education programs. Now it has found a place in the field of Oncology, helping cancer patients feel better.
Up Close and Personal
I have personally witnessed therapy dogs in clinics, but I’ll have to say, I’ve never seen a music therapist, but they do exist. Chelsea Conaboy, staff writer for the Boston Globe, highlights this fascinating type of therapy. In one of her articles she covers music therapy and relative research that is going on in her neck of the woods. Local therapists, patients, parents of children, and a nurse even chimed in on the subject! This is a sampling of what she found out:
Music therapist Brian Jantz has been visiting patients at two different hospitals in the Boston area for five years. He has split his time between Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital Boston, where he plays the guitar, and lets children play along on the bongo drums (and I’m sure that’s not all)!
How It Has Evolved and The Benefits
In the early days, staff members would send Jantz away when one of his patients was not feeling well. Now when the patients hit their lowest moments, the staff will call and request Jantz to visit. The medical community involved there is beginning to recognize what music therapists have known for decades. Music doesn’t just take a person’s mind off their hospital stay. It actually makes them feel better. Jantz says, “Music connects people to their creativity and sense of self; that part of them that is still healthy regardless of illness. In a way, cancer can’t touch that. And when you get patients in touch with that again, it really gives them hope. They become more optimistic.”
Participation Lowers Stress
In previous years, volunteers would come in to a hospital and play for an audience. Music therapy has evolved into much more than that. Today, the music therapist allows willing participants to play along, sing along, or beat the heck out of the bongo drums or cymbals, which helps them vent deep-seated emotions that can’t be expressed any other way.
Lorrie Kubicek is a staff music therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital and teaches clinical piano lessons. Lorrie says, “It’s not about teaching someone to play Mozart. It’s really about the process of being able to express yourself.”
Music is known to foster self-esteem, reduce isolation, builds strength, and helps develop motor skills. Therapists can evaluate a patient’s abilities and tailor individual sessions, to get the most benefits both physically and emotionally.
Research While in The Trenches
Suzanne Rose is a cancer nurse who works with children at Massachusetts General Hospital. She has witnessed the positive effects of music therapy, and is now studying music therapy, and is doing research to develop a teaching tool for other nurses to use one day to improve patient care.
Proof It Works
There is proof. Cochrane Collaboration, is an international nonprofit that reviews the effectiveness of health care interventions. They did research to see if emotional (thoughts, feelings) gains from music therapy could lead to physiological (anything associated with the body) ones, too. They reviewed 30 studies involving over 250 participants and found significant benefits. Their study included cancer patients who listened to recorded music. The music reduced patient anxiety levels, and it relieved pain somewhat. Listening to the music improved the patient’s blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.
Music Transcends Biology
Support for research in this field has been good, but funding has not been easy to find. It falls under the classification of integrative therapies such as massage, acupuncture or meditation. The reviewers are saying they are having trouble trying to explain in their studies why the music affects the people on a psychological level. They say that they can’t measure it, because it transcends biology. It’s hard for them to measure when a person goes from a mind filled with chaos, to a moment of peace.
The Splendor of Normal
To the mother of a 4 year old Phoebe, it doesn’t matter. Phoebe has been suffering from leukemia for two years, and looks forward to her happier moments with Brian Jantz. When she can’t play normal games with other children because of pain in her joints, she can sing and play an instrument with Brian’s help, and she feels normal again.
Brian Jantz has also helped bring to life the spirit of music within Helen, a 9 year old cancer patient. Helen has acute lymphoblastic leukemia and gets treatment every three weeks. She sings along with Brian during her sessions, and has written a song called Magic is Everywhere and now participates in music at her school. Helen no longer sees herself as a cancer patient. She is now a musician. And, as she puts it, “I always thought of myself as a rock star.”
I call that success.
Source:White Coat Notes @boston.com
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